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The art of listening … to a sermon

In most home-visits the subject of the preaching will be discussed. In fact, if it isn’t, you should be holding your elder to account! Typically a good part of this discussion will revolve around the preacher – his style, strengths and weaknesses.

But what about the listener? How good are we at listening to sermons? We all want the sermons to have an impact on our lives. But how much of that impact is being missed not because of the strength of his delivery, but because of the strength of our listening?

In his book titled “What is a Healthy Church Member?”, Thabiti Anyabwile identifies 10 marks of a healthy church member, the first of which is “an expositional listener”.

What is expositional listening?

To understand expositional listening we first need to understand expositional preaching.  “Expositional preaching is not simply producing a verbal commentary on some passage of scripture. Rather, expositional preaching is that preaching which takes for the main point of a sermon the point of a particular passage of scripture. That’s it. The preacher opens the word and unfolds it for the people of God” (Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church).

In other words, the focus of the preacher is to discover the meaning of a passage, and the sermon must relay that meaning to the congregation.

So if that’s expositional preaching, what is expositional listening? Thabiti defines expositional listening as “listening for the meaning of a passage of Scripture and accepting that meaning as the main idea to be grasped for our personal and corporate lives as Christians”.

How does such listening benefit us?

Thabiti identifies a number of benefits.

  • Cultivating a hunger for God’s Word. As we tune our ears to the kind of preaching that makes the primary point of the sermon the primary point of a particular passage of Scripture, we grow accustomed to listening to God. … Expositional listening gives us a clear ear with which to hear God.”
  • “Expositional listening helps us to focus on God’s will and to follow him. Our agenda becomes secondary. The preacher’s agenda becomes secondary. God’s agenda for his people takes centre stage, reorders our priorities, and directs us in the course that most honours him.”
  • “Expositional listening encourages faithful preachers. … Few things are more discouraging or dishonouring to such men than a congregation inattentive to the Word of God. Faithful men flourish as the fertile reception of the preached Word. They’re made all the more bold when their people give ear to the Lord’s voice and give evidence of being shaped by it.”


The Church is the workshop of the Holy Spirit, and the preaching is the chief means of building our faith. And yet, consistent with the culture in which we live, we can so easily come to Church with an expectation of sitting back and being entertained.

Yet, the job of the minster is to communicate the meaning of the passage. And the job of the listener is to catch the meaning of the passage.  Let’s encourage each other in the art of listening to a sermon.

Next week … tips for expositional listening.